Escargot may not be the first dish that comes to mind when you think of kid-friendly food, but the earlier you introduce kids to exotic fare, the more adventurous they are likely to be as time goes on. Most kids like any sort of food they can get into up to both elbows. Canned escargot come out of the shell, but if you put them back in before baking them, the kids can pick up the shells and go treasure hunting for the succulent snails inside with a seafood fork.
1. Preparing Fresh Escargot for Baking
Fresh escargot are available in certain gourmet markets, but you’re more likely to find them in your own backyard. Before baking fresh escargot, they must undergo a fasting and cleansing period to make sure that they have not ingested anything that is toxic to human beings. This is only necessary for backyard snails, as purchased ones will already have been cleansed. Gather your snails and place them in a wide, shallow container that has a ventilated bottom. Give them water and feed them lettuce or herbs for at least 10 days. Three days before you intend to bake the snails, stop feeding them, but give them plenty of water or wine. Rinse them in cool water and sort them by keeping only the ones that poke their heads out of their shells. Place the snails in a bucket or bowl and pour in enough water to cover them. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 tablespoons of salt for every dozen snails. Let them soak for four hours, changing the vinegar and salt solution several times. Poach the snails for 10 minutes in a clean pot with lemon juice or wine. Let them cool and remove them from their shells.
2. Preparing Canned Escargot for Baking
Open the can of escargot and drain the meat well. Rinse the snails in cool water and let them sit in a mesh strainer while you prepare the baking pan and the stuffing or sauce. There are special pans available for baking escargot, but a mini muffin tin works just as well, and most busy moms are more likely to have one. You can also use a shallow baking dish or a cookie sheet with little aluminum foil nests to keep the shells upright and secure. Escargot shells generally won’t stick to a muffin tin, baking dish or cookie sheet, but spritzing whatever you’re using with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray will keep your stuffing or sauce from sticking, making clean-up a lot easier.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This ensures that the escargot do not sit in a lukewarm oven, which could encourage bacterial growth. It also cuts down on cooking time when hungry kids are waiting. There are almost as many baked escargot recipes as there are snails out there for cooking, but the simplest way to bake escargot is with a bit of butter, garlic, lemon and parsley. Have the kids help you stuff the escargot into their shells and lay them out in the muffin tin or whatever you are using. Mix together softened butter, minced garlic, a squirt of lemon juice and some chopped parsley, and spoon some of the mixture into each shell on top of the meat. Baking times can vary between ovens and you don’t want the escargot to dry out, so keep a close eye on them. Ten to 15 minutes is usually long enough to heat the escargot through and melt the butter until it is bubbly and filling the kitchen with its scent.
Escargot baked in a butter sauce is rich, so simple, fresh accompaniments are best. It might be asking too much to get kids to eat both escargot and asparagus – a match made in culinary heaven -- at the same meal, but steamed broccoli also works. A simple rice or risotto is filling, inexpensive and kid-friendly. Hot, crusty bread is useful for sopping up the juices. Usually, you would use long, narrow seafood forks for picking escargot out of their shells, but a nut pick will also work. For younger children, a baby spoon is almost exactly the right size and has no sharp points. Make sure that the shells cool a bit after baking the escargot, unless the whole family is adept at using snail tongs.